Court filings shed light on Blue Origin vs. SpaceX lunar lander fight, with dark spots

An artist's conception shows the Starship rocket ship from SpaceX on the moon. (SpaceX illustration)
Revised versions of documents related to Blue Origin's federal lawsuit against the federal government and SpaceX include more details on the dispute over a multi-billion dollar NASA moon landing contract, but the omitted details are arguably just as intriguing.
The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals today published the 59-page text of the August lawsuit filed by the Blue Origin-led industrial consortium. The court also provided edited responses from SpaceX.
Submissions focus on NASA's decision in April to award SpaceX with a $ 2.9 billion contract to develop its Starship super rocket as the landing system for the Artemis program's first manned voyage to the lunar surface, already slated for 2024 is.
At the time, NASA said SpaceX's proposal was technically superior to the concepts of Blue Origin and its partners - Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper - and another competitor, Dynetics. SpaceX had the low bid, with Blue Origin's team suggesting $ 5.9 billion for its landing system. Draper's suggestion was even more expensive.
The initial hope was that NASA could give multiple awards to help promote the competition and have a plan B. But space agency officials said Congress only used enough money to make an award.
In a protest filed with the Government Accountability Office, Blue Origin complained that NASA had failed to properly evaluate the proposals and that SpaceX was given the opportunity to restructure its bid to meet NASA's budget. GAO largely sided with NASA and SpaceX in a ruling that let the contract go ahead, but then Blue Origin took the dispute to federal court.
Blue Origin's lawsuit touches on the above discussion points, but mainly focuses on waivers NASA has issued in relation to "supporting spacecraft" that appear to be used in connection with SpaceX's landing system. The details of those who support spaceships have been blacked out by the court.
The lawsuit argues that issuing waivers for individual readiness checks and "other verification requirements" gave the supporting spacecraft, SpaceX, an unfair competitive advantage. "Blue Origin and Dynetics did not have such a chance to compete with the enacted requirements granted by the SpaceX agency," it says. "Had it had such an opportunity, Blue Origin could have suggested a much lower price ..."
So what is the supporting spaceship? References to SpaceX's moon landing Starship and a tanker version of the same spaceship that would be used for in-flight refueling have not been edited - so these are likely not up for debate. The edited document makes no mention of SpaceX's Super Heavy booster, but to guess if that's the sticking point would be pure speculation.
Blue Origin is calling on the court to issue an order suspending SpaceX's work on the lunar landing contract and giving competitors an equal chance to discuss their proposals with NASA. If the contract is awarded as suggested by Blue Origin, the competitors would send "final proposal revisions" to NASA and space agency officials would make a new award decision.
In one of its responses to the complaint, SpaceX said Blue Origin relied on a "flawed interpretation" of NASA's request - an interpretation that was "unfortunately adopted by GAO" in its judgment.
SpaceX also says the unedited version of Blue Origin's complaint should be kept sealed as it would reveal SpaceX's proprietary and confidential information. The judge on the case, Richard Hertling, agreed with SpaceX on the editorial question.
The court is expected to hear oral arguments in October with the aim of delivering a judgment by early November. Meanwhile, NASA has granted Blue Origin, SpaceX, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman a total of $ 146 million in fixed-price awards as part of a follow-up program to increase the space agency's lunar landing capabilities.
More from GeekWire:
NASA agrees to pause the SpaceX lunar contract until November after Jeff Bezos ’Blue Origin filed suit
Elon Musk mocks Jeff Bezos for challenging Blue Origin against SpaceX's lunar lander contract
NASA freezes money on SpaceX lunar landers due to protests from Blue Origin, Dynetics
Bezos ’Blue Origin is suing NASA for awarding Musk's SpaceX individual contract to return astronauts to the moon

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